This is the second film in the STAR WARS “Prequel Trilogy.” Unfortunately, it suffers from many of the flaws that plagued THE PHANTOM MENACE: slow pacing, weak storytelling, muddled exposition—all wrapped up on cartoon-like computer-generated effects that are supposed to overwhelm any reservations about the uninspired narrative. Despite being touted as a major comeback, STAR WARS, EPISODE TWO: ATTACK OF THE CLONES emerged looking as bad as if not worse than its 1999 predecessor.
With ATTACK OF THE CLONES, the prequel trilogy confirmed that it was not about making good movies; it was only about filling in the back story for the original trilogy. The problem was that, despite the press release hype indicating that Lucas had mapped out the entire saga, it was evident that Lucas had always been working without a clear plan. After STAR WARS, each subsequent film introduced contradictions that had to be explained away later (as Obi-Wan’s “I was telling the truth, sort of” speech in RETURN OF THE JEDI was meant to justify his “Darth Vader killed your father” speech in STAR WARS). The increasingly messy narrative might have been forgiven if Lucas had managed to recapture the exhilaration and excitement that made STAR WARS an instant classic. Unfortunately, what had begun a long, long time ago as glorious entertainment had degenerated by this time into an untenable mixture of juvenile kiddy moviemaking and pretentious pseudo-mythmaking.
More interesting than the film’s allegedly mythic narrative is the mythic narrative behind the film’s making: that George Lucas had disappinted us with PHANTOM MENACE only because he had not directed a film since the first STAR WARS in 1977, so no one could blame him for being a little rusty. And the fans had not seen a STAR WARS film since 1983’s RETURN OF THE JEDI, so who could blame them for flocking to see it? However, there was no decent excuse left for CLONES.
And there was much that needed excusing. Chief among the flaws was the lame romantic subplot, which is so badly written, directed and performed that it easily competes with both PHANTOM MEACE’S Jar-Jar Binks and Jake Lloyd for reaching the all-time low point in the series. Besides that, we get more examples of good actors being ill-used by the material (only Christopher Lee manages to shine, and Ewan McGregor emerges relatively unscathed). There is an overabundance of computer-generated imagery that (as often is the case) looks too glossy and unconvincing (particularly the animated proprietor of the ‘50s style diner). And there’s a plot that combines excessive exposition with lazy plot devices. (For example, there’s the aforementioned ‘50s diner scene, where Obi-Wan gets the information he needs to track down bounty hunter Jango Fett. This is the equivalent of ‘70s cop shows like STARSKY AND HUTCH, wherein the police solved the crime each week by getting everything they needed to know from their ever reliable street informant.) Even the occasional interesting development (as when renegade Jedi Count Dooku claims to be setting up his own organization to combat the Sith, because the Jedi have proven to be ineffective) is quickly jettisoned in favor of more simplistic storytelling (Dooku turns out to be just working for the machiavellian Senator Palpatine).
Most of these weaknesses were acknowledge at the time of release. However, one point that went mostly ignored was the unintentionally hilarious costuming for Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), after she is being guarded by Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). As the alleged romance between the two grows, the characters struggle with their roles as senator and Jedi—roles that, theoretically, prevent them from consummating their sexual tension. What’s ridiculous is that as Amidala is explaining the bitter facts of life to Anakin about why they cannot fall in love, she is wearing a series of ‘fuck-me-now’ outfits that include sheer, backless gowns, waist-cinching leather corsets, and skin-tight tops that clearly reveal the bra-less nipples underneath. Viewers were legitimately left to wonder whether it was really his mother’s death that drove Anakin to go on a rampage and slaughter “women and children” (the first time he surrenders to the Dark Side of the Force, foreshadowing his eventual transformation in Dark Vader). Perhaps he was just venting his pent-up frustration after suffering Amidala’s extended sex-teasing?
One might conceivable argue that the costumes represent Amidala’s conflicted state of mind: that is, conscious of her responsibilities, she verbally rejects Anakin’s advances, but betrays herself visually, expressing her true desires through her choice of clothing. However, this is an extremely generous reading of the film, in line with those that tried to suggest the awkward dialogue and performances were simply a valid portrayal of awkward young lovers. Dwelling on such details only serves to invite the wrath of the Lucasoids. Sadly, this was all too typical of the response generated by the latest STAR WARS films: increasing disappointment followed by increasingly desperate rationalization.
Curiously, the faithful fans flocked to theatres anyway, apparently convinced, in some strange Panglosian fashion, that this new embarrassment (unspeakable dialogue, stilted performances, convoluted plot points, overdone special effects) somehow served the greater good of saga as a whole.
This was the first STAR WARS film that failed to outgross all the competition at the U.S box office during the year it was released, thanks to SPIDER-MAN, which earned well over $400-million in 2002.
STAR WARS, EPISODE 2: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)/ Written & Directed by George Lucas. Cast: Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson